Berkshire Blue heading to stores
By Ellen G. Lahr, Berkshire Eagle Staff
GREAT BARRINGTON — Berkshire Blue, the specialty gourmet cheese that was recalled in March following discovery of a potentially dangerous bacteria, will be back on the market July 2.
Company proprietor Michael G. Miller said test results conducted by the AgriMark laboratory in West Springfield confirmed that the bacteria, listeria originated in the ”haylage” used by the dairy farmer who supplies his milk, not in his cheese production process.
He declined to identify his milk source, but said that the last 12 tests of the farmer’s supplies have been negative.
He said he will continue using the farmer’s high-quality Jersey milk until the season arrives and haylage is used to feed his cows. Haylage, large bales of hay wrapped in tight plastic rolls, provides what Miller said are “optimum incubating conditions” for bacteria.
“But from there on, we will pick up milk only from grass- and hay-fed cows, no haylage-fed milkers,” he said.
Miller said the cost of the recall was valued at about $31,000 in recalled cheese and three months of nonproductivity at the Crissey Road facility.
“We completely took our dairy apart and put it back together in case the listeria had spread,” he said.
He said all but one of Berkshire Blue’s 13 regional and national distributors will continue distributing the cheese. His largest distributor, Sid Wainer & Son, had begun reducing orders before the listeria problem and is no longer a distributor.
At its peak, he said, the company was producing 660 pounds of cheese per week, but he’s now making between 220 and 440 pounds per week, mainly because of the loss of the big distributor.
Miller said he intends to expand his market by exploring possibilities in California, and may team up with a British cheesemaker to produce a version of cheddar cheese.
The 6-year-old cheese-making company has won several awards, including a gold medal from the World Cheese Contest in London two years ago. The cheese also has been an American exhibition choice at the last three International Slow Foods Festival in Italy.
Miller said he plans to install his own listeria-testing equipment and will replace a cheese-making vat with one that can pasteurize, in the event that that is ever required by the Food and Drug Administration.
Berkshire Blue is made through a licensing agreement with a British businessman and with a local business investor, David R. Boag of Housatonic.
Eventually, Berkshire Blue’s operation will be relocated to a larger location, Miller said.